Research has suggested that under achievement in mathematics of students with disabilities can be traced to a lack of foundational knowledge (Bryant, Bryant, Williams, Kim, & Shin, 2013). Specifically, students should have achieved automaticity of addition and subtraction by the end of the third grade and multiplication and division by the end of the fifth grade. Lower fluency with the skills results in increased use of working memory to accomplish these constructs when trying to solve problems in later math classes. At present, there is no reliable and valid measure that is universally accepted to describe math learning disability (MLD; Geary, 2013) as opposed to simply low achievement. Part of this may be a result of math having different semi-unrelated facets (e.g., number sense, geometry) as compared to reading which is based on a more easily represented learning trajectory (letter recognition –> sound recognition –> phoneme recognition etc.). What is known is that between 57 and 64% of individuals with MLD also have a reading disability (Bararesi, Katusic, Colligan, Weaver, & Jacobsen, 2005) which suggests that the same environmental genetic factors may be at work in both disabilities (Geary, 2013). Research about MLDs is generally focused on three areas: (a) numbers, (b) accounting, and (c) arithmetic with little attention paid to spatial mathematics (e.g., geometry) and statistics. However this is likely to change with growing attention paid to these areas in schools to improve college and career readiness.
Therefore, when we speak of improving student mathematics outcomes, the Institute of Education Sciences’ (IES) practice guide on teaching strategies for improving algebra, suggested a focus on developing deeper understanding of algebra, emphasizing process over outcomes, and encouraging precise math language (Star, et al., 2015). In light of these suggestions, and the current focus on “real world applications” the remainder of this chapter will be devoted to strategies designed to improve the mathematics of students with disabilities in the secondary schools. First, we will discuss a strategy for improving story problem outcomes, Solve-It! (Montague, 2010), followed by recommendations from the IES practice guide.